In 2016 Russian Parliament decriminalized first-time offenses for battery, in an attempt to reduce the total number of imprisonments. The new version of the corresponding article in the Criminal Code included a provision that the battery against a family member would still be a criminal offense. Russian Orthodox Church criticized the provision as the Government's overreach into parenting. Religious groups protested the amendment. As a result, in 2017 the Parliament voted to remove a family member provision, thus, decriminalizing the battery for first-time offenders.
How did the Russian politicians who backed this law justify the reduced punishment for some forms of domestic violence?
The Guardian article already provides a direct quote from one of the sponsors of the bill (Yelena Mizulina).
If you slap your naughty child, you risk up to two years in jail. If your neighbor does the same, it would end with a fine.
Senator Mizulina was one of the cosigners of the amendment, so this is the actual firsthand justification from the backer of the bill.
I'll try to provide the legal context for this particular amendment.
In 2015 the Supreme Court of Russia introduced a bill #953369-6 with multiple amendments to the Criminal Code. Namely, bill decriminalizes first-time offenses for the following types of crime:
- Non-aggravated battery.
- The threat of murder or serious bodily harm.
- Evasion of child support payment
- Use of forged documents.
Supreme Court suggested moving the corresponding articles from the Criminal Code to the Code on Administrative Offenses. Administrative Offenses usually presume a lighter punishment (fines) and simplified legal proceedings.
In the explanatory note bill authors explain that the main goal of amendments is to humanize Russian criminal law and to reduce the number of criminal sentences:
В последние годы на фоне постоянного снижения количества уголовных дел, поступающих на рассмотрение в суды, и сокращения общего числа лиц, осуждаемых за совершение преступлений, имеет место увеличение в общей структуре судимости доли лиц, осужденных за совершение преступлений небольшой тяжести.
... В случае реализации положений данной части законопроекта из-под действия уголовного закона может быть выведено около 200 тысяч лиц.
In recent years, with the constant reduction in the number of criminal cases and a reduction in the total number of persons convicted of crimes, there is a significant increase in the proportion of persons convicted for minor offenses.
... implementation of the provisions of the bill would result in around 200,000 persons being removed from the scope of the criminal justice system every year.
The initial version of the bill decriminalized the non-aggravated battery entirely, but the bill was amended during the hearing in State Duma to include a provision that the first-time battery against the family member would still be criminalized.
In July 2016 the billed passed the parliament and was signed into law by President Putin.
Russian Orthodox Church interpreted the "close relatives" amendment as the example of the government's overreach into family matters. ROC issued a statement criticizing the law as lacking "moral and legal ground". The statement also includes the "neighbour slap" justification later repeated by Mizulina:
Если новая редакция статьи 116 Уголовного кодекса вступит в силу, это может привести к уголовному преследованию добросовестных родителей (с наложением наказания до двух лет лишения свободы) за любое, даже умеренное и разумное использование физических наказаний в воспитании детей. При этом, как следует из текста закона, посторонние люди за такие же действия в отношении ребенка уголовной ответственности нести не будут.
If the new version of article 116 of the Criminal Code is enacted, this may lead to criminal prosecution of conscientious parents (with the punishment up to two years of imprisonment) for any, even moderate and reasonable use of physical punishment in the upbringing of children. At the same time, as follows from the text of the law, strangers will not be held criminally accountable for the same actions against the child.
Religious groups in Russia protested the amendment.
Decriminalization of a non-aggravated battery
In November 2016 group of Russian MPs, including Mizulina, introduced the amendment (bill # №26265-7) to the article 116 of the Criminal Code, removing the "family member" clause and thus, decriminalizing first-time non-aggravated battery entirely. This bill passed the parliament and was signed into law on February 7, 2017.
You can read the extremely well-sourced and insightful summary of events in the report from Nerses Isajanyan: Russian Federation: Decriminalization of Domestic Violence